Miami Heat

Heat to race high-octane Rockets and MVP candidate Harden in return to home court

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) drives around Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon (00) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Fri., Jan. 6, 2017, in Orlando, Fla.
Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) drives around Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon (00) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Fri., Jan. 6, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. AP

The Miami Heat will run into — and after — a team that has turned NBA basketball into a video game on hardwood.

The Houston Rockets are outgunning even the Golden State Warriors, who set the league record last year for three-pointers.

Led by James Harden, the Rockets attempted a record 61 three-pointers last month against New Orleans. They sank 21 of 44 three-pointers Sunday against the Nets.

They live and die by pushing the accelerator, and so far it’s working. The Rockets, Miami’s opponent Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at AmericanAirlines Arena, are 32-11 and will challenge the ailing, 11-30 Heat with their speed and unrelenting offensive rip current.

“When everyone is on the same page with no differing motives it’s sweet music,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Houston coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. “I thought he was the perfect hire. He’s extremely innovative. It’s what he was doing in Phoenix on steroids.”

The Rockets are averaging 114.9 points per game — second to Golden State. The Heat, which has the second-worst record in the NBA, is averaging the second-lowest output at 98.3 points per game.

“It’s just about a rhythm,” said Rocket Trevor Ariza, who hit six threes against Brooklyn. Houston also scored 74 points in the first half. “When the ball is flying around, the team is flying around and the ball finds the right person at the right time.”

The Rockets, averaging 38.9 three-point attempts per game, are one of three teams on pace to surpass Houston’s 2014-2015 record of 32.7 three-point attempts per game. It’s part of an NBA trend — or cyclical strategy — to capitalize on the three-point shot.

“The game has gotten a lot faster, and it’s getting smaller. I don’t see any power forwards out there sometimes,” the Heat’s Udonis Haslem said.

Asked if he longed for the days of deliberate defense and the skilled big man, Haslem said not necessarily.

“It doesn’t matter to me, and if you have the flexibility to play small, why not take advantage?” he said. “I never thought it would come to this. It’s shooting a lot of threes and running as fast as you can.”

Harden is averaging 28.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game. He has 12 triple doubles and is stride-for-stride with former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook as league MVP candidate. In fact, Harden has self-nominated “The Beard” when asked who should win.

“He’s putting up MVP-caliber numbers,” Haslem said. “People can say he’s only a scorer, but he’s doing way more than that. He rebounds, passes and knows exactly when to shoot and when not to.”

Houston has six players who have attempted 100-plus threes this season, with Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson sinking them with 40 percent accuracy.

The Heat lost to the Warriors 107-95 Tuesday night despite 28 points and 20 rebounds from Hassan Whiteside on Tues., Jan. 10, 2017.

“We have to make it as tough on Harden and the rest of them as we can,” Spoelstra said. “We can’t speed him up. He’s a basketball maestro. He sees plays before they happen.”

Heat guard Goran Dragic, familiar with the fast pace of the Western Conference, said communication on defense will be critical against Houston.

“They like numbers, and it’s better to shoot threes than layups or mid-range shots,” he said.

Dion Waiters is looking forward to the challenge of playing against Harden.

“I’ve played against him a lot and he’s all about playing smart,” Waiters said. “You can’t be too aggressive because he’s very smart about creating a foul.

“They just catch and shoot. You can’t even run back to the paint and load up. We’ll have to do a great job of running them off the line. It’s surprising to see how good they are, but when we have the ball we have to get inside, keep pressure on them and make them play defense.”

▪ Spoelstra said Josh Richardson is expected to miss a minimum of two weeks with a sprained foot.

“He’s still in a boot,” Spoelstra said. “It wasn’t responding as quickly as we thought but it is responding.”

The Heat can sign a 16th player to the roster because of its high number of injuries and that’s expected to be former Florida State forward Okaro White of the Development League.

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